Accommodation Breakdown: Clearly-Defined Expectations

A teacher asks her students to write a report about a topic of their choice. She states two requirements for the report:

  1. The report must be one page in length.
  2. The report must focus on a topic she taught in science within the last month.

Did she provide clearly-defined expectations?


Unclearly-Defined Expectations

When my son was in sixth grade, his science teacher asked each student to write five paragraphs about an element. The teacher assigned each student an element and advised the students to include the name of the element, its symbol, and other information along those lines within the five paragraphs.

My son chose, researched, and wrote his five paragraphs.

When the teacher graded the report, she took points off his grade.


She expected each paragraph to include three sentences—an expectation she failed to share when she made the assignment.

Another example:

A teacher starts Wednesday classes with quizzes. However, she doesn’t ensure the student with an assignment notebook accommodation writes it in his assignment notebook, to remind himself to study.


The teacher doesn’t consider quizzes to be an assignment, hence she doesn’t think they need to go in the assignment notebook.

In addition, the Wednesday quizzes are a part of her routine, part of her expectation for each week. She doesn’t consider that what she believes to be an obvious set schedule for her class might not be obvious to the student juggling multiple classes.

She doesn’t consider that the student struggling with executive function might not be paying attention to the Wednesday pattern because he’s so focused on one class at a time. He needs the expectation for each class, for each day of the week, included in his assignment notebook in advance.

Clearly-Defined Expectations

The accommodation for clearly-defined expectations should provide exactly what it sound like: clearly-defined expectations.

In the first example above, the teacher neglected to provide answers to the following questions a student might have about the report:

  • When is the report due?
  • On the due date, does the teacher want it turned in at the start of class? Will she take points off if the student turns it in at the end of class or at the end of the school day?
  • How is “within the last month” defined? Is a month within the last 30 days or in that actual month? For example, if February 19 is the date the teacher assigns the project, should the topic be pulled from February instruction or the past 30 days? Is January an option?
  • Does the teacher have a list of topics or should the students look at homework and/or classwork that was assigned that month?
  • Does the teacher want the one-page report to include a specific number of paragraphs?
  • Does the teacher want each paragraph to include a specific number of sentences?
  • Will the teacher grade on spelling? What about grammar? Syntax?

For the second example above, the teacher neglected to consider a big-picture expectation. While the student needs specific expectations for all classwork, assessments, and homework, the student needs daily schedule-related expectations set, too.

Writing the Accommodation

For the student’s IEP or 504, the accommodation must be written as clearly as it is expected to be implemented.

It isn’t enough to write: Student will be provided clearly-defined expectations.

For what? For all assessments? Assignments? Classwork?

What about different situations? Is there an expectation for when the child needs to go to the bathroom? Does he have to bring a friend? Ask in advance?

What about lunch? Are students allowed to sit in a different seat for each lunch or is assigned seating the expectation?

Students who need this accommodation need teachers to step into their shoes and understand that nothing can be assumed.

A weekly schedule that is obvious for a teacher might not be obvious for a student.

The teacher must request specifically what she wants. If she doesn’t, the student’s failure to meet her expectation is on her, not the student. The student can’t read her mind. He won’t know she wants three sentences per paragraph unless she states such an expectation.

In addition, clearly-defined expectations must be included for everything. There is no one and done. For example, if a teacher assigns a book report during the first quarter and provides clearly-defined expectations for that report, she can’t assume that the student will understand that those same expectations apply to the book report she assigns during the third quarter.

As you can imagine, this means this accommodation could be written in a wide variety of different ways. Start with the following and add to it as appropriate:

Teachers will provide student clearly-defined expectations for all classwork, assessments, and homework, in advance of all classwork, assessments, and homework. Teacher will provide student clearly-defined expectations for the student’s weekly schedule and for behavior-related expectations for classes, lunch, recess, and transitions between one class to the next.

1 comment on “Accommodation Breakdown: Clearly-Defined Expectations

  1. Yes. Just two things to add, from my own experience. Many kids don’t have executive functioning weaknesses as a primary disability. Rather, their primary disabilities – reading, language, etc. – require so much effort, there is no bandwidth left for EF. So accommodations help, but ultimately, the disabilities underlying their difficulties understanding and completing work need to be addressed.

    The other is that these clearly defined expectations need to be in writing, and provided to the student – he/she should not be expected to “take a picture of the board” to obtain this information, or copy it. (and the rubric provided to all students usually isn’t enough – otherwise, why does the student need this accommodation in the first place?) Teachers’ handwriting on the board isn’t always so legible, some of the work on the board may not pertain to the student, and this requires that the student keep up with a myriad of pictures in addition to everything else.

    In the working world, adults get emails and assignments from their bosses in writing – and they usually don’t have 6-7 bosses – and these are adults who, if they have disabilities, are hopefully getting their needs met through ADA.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *